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For thirteen centuries, Bulgaria - the cradle of Slav culture, the land of Orpheus and Spartacus has given the world men of great achievements, mysterious Thracian treasures and burial tombs, magnificent frescoes and many brilliant examples of ancient applied arts.
Bulgarian festivals and customs date back to ancient times when men tried to appease the natural elements and trembled before their power. Full of beauty, gaiety, mystical voices, fiery dances and brightly colored costumes - Bulgarian folklore has to be seen, felt and experienced!
Fire dancing is the most ancient mysterious ritual - barefooted dancers performing on burning embers. This religious and mystical ritual for expelling illness, for health and fruitfulness is one that must be seen to believe it.
The Festival of Roses is a lovely festival celebrated in the Rose Valley near the town of Kazanluk (at the foot of the Balkan Range) on the first weekend of June every year. The festival is a pageant of beauty in the unique Rose Valley. In the run-up of the event, a Queen Rose beauty contest is held in several rounds. Artists, actors, circus performers, writers and singers flock to Kazanluk at the start of June. The Bulgarian oleaginous rose yields 70 percent of the world's attar of roses used by every perfume company as an essential component of its products. The history tells that in the Thracian provinces of the Roman Empire, the Thracians grew 12 varieties of roses, one of them known as the "Thracian Rose". In the 1270, during the crusades, Count de Gruye brought the Damascus rose from Syria to the valley of Kazanlak where conditions proved excellent. Experts claim that Bulgarian roses and rose oil owe their unique properties to the local climate and the generous soil. The temperatures in February, when roses bud, are ideal. The blossoms are picked in May and June, when high humidity is very important. So is the cinnamon-forest soil in the area and, last but not least, the remarkable skills of the Bulgarian rose-oil producers.
Kukeri Carnival held in the region of Dupnitsa and Pernik is a splendid festival of brightly colored masks and costumes which marks the beginning of the spring. Every participant makes his own multicolored personal mask, covered with beads, ribbons and woolen tassels. The heavy swaying of the main mummer is meant to represent wheat heavy with grain, and the bells tied around the waist are intended to drive away the evil spirits and the sickness.
The Bulgarian voices are called to be mystery. Experts are still trying to explain the incredible range of the Bulgarian voice and the variety of songs. Its unique sound was universally acknowledged by the fact that the popular Rhodope song "Izlel e Delyu hiadutin" sung by the talented singer Valya Balkanska was recorded on a gold record and was sent as a message to outer space on the American spaceship Voyager in 1977. The world is discovering it again and again at major folklore and song contests in Italy, France, England and Ireland from which the Bulgarian music and dance ensembles invariably walk off with the first prizes.
The folk festivals "Pirin Sings" and Rozhen Sings are the best-known Bulgarian folklore festivals. Last year alone, some 150 000 visitors from Bulgaria and abroad came together to witness the show by the 4 000 performers on each festival. They came not only to see these inspiring events, but also to learn about the curious world of Bulgarian folklore traditions.
Applied crafts have gradually emerged from the narrow frame work of strictly domestic life to become an art which breeds art: Bulgarian embroidery with its intricate geometrical figures, Bulgarian rugs and carpets with their vibrant colours, exquisitely painted Bulgarian ceramics, finely ornamented Bulgarian fretwork and superbly fashioned Bulgarian jewellery.
The Samovodene Market in Veliko Turnovo, the Permanent National Exhibition of Folk Art in Oreshak near Troyan and the Etura architectural and ethnographic complex near Gabrovo are all original museums of the revived beauty of Bulgarian handicrafts. You are bound to find your own particular memento from Bulgaria here - a small carved wooden wine vessel, a Troyan pottery set, a fleecy Rhodope rug, an original piece of silver jewellery, a finely embroidered silk blouse or a colourful carpet.